Develop Magazine Takes On Mental Health in Games and Development

A feature on mental health in games from Develop magazine, March 2017

Traditionally speaking, Develop magazine covers the nuts and bolts of the game industry — the art and business of making games, more so than the individuals who make them. This month, it’s doing something a little different, making space within its pages for the hearts and minds of creators.

The March 2017 issue covers a few topics that might be worth reading about even if you aren’t involved in game development, like the importance of representation and the role games have in promoting peace. It also covers two topics of particular interest to us: mental health and crunch.

Develop’s Jem Alexander spoke to the creators of The Town of Light and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice to learn how their teams approached mental health and stigma.

Ninja Theory’s [Product Development Ninja, Dominic] Matthews believes that games can be a great tool to educate players and help them emphathise with sufferers of mental health disorders. “We don’t embark on this specifically to raise awareness but rather to create a compelling story and character,” he says. “However, video games do offer a unique opportunity to put players into the place of another character and allow them to see and feel the world through their eyes. By doing this, Hellblade can first and foremost be a compelling piece of entertainment, but at the same time, it could go some way towards understanding a very difficult subject.”

Marie Dealessandri spoke to representatives from a number of studios about their experiences with crunch, digging into why it happens, how it has become an expected part of the game development process in many places, and why it should be avoided whenever possible.

Platronic studio director Gavin Price shared his studio’s methods of handling crunch, which sound particularly progressive.

“We have a diverse range of opinions on what constitutes crunch and so our approach is to listen to each other’s individual opinions rather than apply a company-wide definition of ‘crunch’,” he tells Develop. “For some, myself included, working consistently longer outside of core office hours is fine, however for some the time away from the office is more valuable to recharge and enjoy other activities and hobbies. A one-size fits all solution, though easier to manage, is ultimately a lazy, unfair and broken one. At Playtonic, individuals can decide for themselves what crunch is and never be expected to align to someone else’s definition. We respect individual choices and strive to find ways no one person is crunching by their own standards and pre-emptively find solutions. Be it sharing the bug-load, moving features around, re-thinking how to achieve a result more efficiently or avoiding making bad decisions in the first place.”

Price goes on to explain that while he doesn’t think his team gets it perfect every time, they’ve been polishing this process as they go — and shipping Yooka-Laylee recently has given them a benchmark to work from on future projects.

Check out the full list of articles in this month’s issue of Develop. It’s available by subscription in print and digital formats. This month’s issue can currently be read online for free.

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